John Gruber of Apple enthusiast site Daring Fireball wrote a wonderful post on what is wrong with Android, the need for it as a competitive impetus for Apple’s innovation and what Android needs to do to succeed. It makes for a riveting read, and you should really have a dekko.
Most of Gruber’s points are quite valid, but it set me thinking. In terms of Apple’s iPhone vs Google’s Android, does anyone else see a case of ‘history repeats itself’, as compared to Apple vs Microsoft? From a broad perspective, it is a bit of the same deal.
Apple vs Microsoft
Back then, both companies had a great operating system. In fact, Apple clearly had the superior one, but insisted on bundling it with its own hardware exclusively.
Apple revolutionised the PC market with the Apple II and then the GUI-based Macintosh. They both sold millions and millions of units, and were pretty much synonymous with personal computing at that time. However, Apple insisted on running Apple DOS, Macintosh and all subsequent operating systems only on their own hardware. This ‘closed’ policy eventually ended up hurting the company as Bill Gates saw the flaw in this operational mode.
Microsoft, on the other hand, went out to meet every manufacturer around and got its OS put on their machines for dirt-cheap prices. It got IBM, Dell and all the other big names to package their computers with OS2, MS-DOS and Windows, progressively. None of those were as good as Apple’s, but these were competitive operating systems that other manufacturers could use on their devices. Bill Gates’ vision was to be ubiquitous with an ‘open’ system to combat Apple’s closed one.
Once they had a ubiquitous platform, software developers naturally gravitated towards it. Now, in hindsight, industry analysts blame the ‘closed’ Mac OS for Apple’s demise in the PC market.
Steve Jobs himself famously told Fortune magazine back in 1996: “The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago.”
Apple vs Google
Cut to 2009, and a similar scenario has emerged. Apple has revolutionised the mobile computing market with the iPhone. Meanwhile, Google has come out with its Android operating system, with a virtual who’s-who of manufacturers ready to put it on their hardware.
Like the Apple II, the iPhone has sold millions and millions of phones and it is pretty much synonymous with high-end touchscreen phones for true mobile computing. Yet, it’s a closed OS on a closed system. And the Apps store, too, is tied into the Apple infrastructure completely. You have to buy an App for the iPhone from the iTunes Apps store, with no third-party sites supporting the same.
Google, on the other hand, has an operating system that they are giving out for free to all rival phone manufacturers, with big names like Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony-Ericsson and Motorola jumping on to the bandwagon. Android Apps can be downloaded from their store, or any other Web site or Apps aggregator as well.
Still, let’s be honest: Android is nowhere near as usable as the iPhone OS, and its Apps store is laughable compared to the iTunes one. Sure, the new Sense UI and other Android ‘covers’ will boost it, but it will take some doing before it has the iPhone’s ‘come hither’ appeal.
However, having a superior product does not mean it will sell more. If that was the case, the PlayStation 3 would be the leading video game console right now and even a commercial version of Linux would have had more sales than Windows Vista!
The parallel I’m drawing here is that I think Android is looking to be a ubiquitous operating system based on an open policy, much like what Microsoft initially did to fight Apple. There will be lots of manufacturers using Android, as opposed to a single one for the iPhone OS. The sheer numbers would be on Google’s side.
Which brings us back to the Daring Fireball post: I don’t think Android would need a definitive ‘gPhone’ to be successful as Gruber says, just like how Microsoft never needed a ‘hardware software’ product to define itself.
Why Android might succeed…
The idea of Android is ubiquity. And that might eventually lead to it becoming bigger than the iPhone. And ‘eventually’ is a very broad term here, encapsulating 10 years, maybe 15.
To explain the ubiquity idea: From a consumer’s perspective, if I am unhappy with my Dell laptop, I can switch to a Fujitsu and still get the same, familiar Windows OS. Similarly, when I am unhappy with my Samsung phone, I would like the option to buy a Sony-Ericsson phone tomorrow without having to relearn the entire operating system.
If my PC conks out and I need to go to my neighbour’s place to use his, I know he still uses the same Windows OS. If my mobile phone goes ka-put, I want to be able to use my brother’s phone immediately with the same ease and efficiency as I do mine.
Learning a new interface/gadget for the same productivity as your last interface/gadget does not go down well with most people, techies included. So to have a common platform that a large population of people are using, and which is “almost as good as the iPhone”, will be acceptable for most users.
And yes, there are several factors in the iPhone vs Android case that are not similar to the Apple vs Microsoft battle, such as the price; branding; the new need for convergence over your PC, laptop, home media centre and phone; the Apps stores; ad-based revenue; etc.
Whether this line of thinking holds merit or not is too soon to tell. Hopefully, Gruber will read this article and respond, and his insights are usually a lot more accurate.
Till then, let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Image source: Myth News